Saturday, January 22, 2011

A Day to Celebrate Pie

The American Pie Council® has declared January 23 National Pie Day! The APC’s web site proclaims a day “dedicated to the celebration of pie.”

According to the APC’s notes about pie history, “Pie has been around since the ancient Egyptians. The first pies were made by early Romans who may have learned about it through the Greeks.” So not only is pie A) delicious; but it B) has the power to transcend space/time and C) is not subject to the laws of cause and effect.

Hooray for Pie!

I brought this dish, based on a recipe from Marianna Olszewska Heberle’s German Cooking, to a Pie Day party. The original recipe called for bacon, but I (rightly) guessed there’d be vegetarians and left it out. Instead, I used repeated simmering to draw out and deepen the flavor. When people asked how to say this word, I explained it is pronounced “onion pie.”

½ cup butter
1 c flour
1 pinch sugar
1 pinch flour
2-3 T milk
1 T olive oil
3 large sweet onions, sliced
1 c vegetable broth
¼ c vodka
½ c sour cream
1 egg plus 1 egg white, lightly beaten
1 T chopped fresh chives
Salt and pepper to taste
1 egg yolk, beaten with ½ t water
¼ t caraway seeds

Mix flour, sugar and salt; cut in butter until mixture is like coarse meal. Sprinkle on the milk, mix with a fork, and form the dough into a ball. Roll out and line a greased 10" or 11" pie pan with the dough. Crimp or flute the edge and trim off the extra. If you have time, wrap loosely and let the crust rest from an hour up to overnight. This will keep fancy edges from puffing out of shape in the oven.

Heat the oven to 350°. Prick the crust all over with a fork, weight it, and bake until browned, perhaps 20 minutes. Remove the weights and set the crust aside.

Meanwhile, heat the oil in a big sauté pan. Cook the onions gently until they begin to soften. Splash in half the stock and continue stirring until the liquid evaporates. Splash in the rest of the stock and repeat. Splash in the vodka and cook the onions down one more time. Set them aside.

Turn the oven up to 375°. Separate one of the eggs and set the yolk aside. Beat the white and the other egg, then mix with the chives, sour cream, and salt/pepper to taste. Mix this into the onions. Spread the onion mixture evenly in the bottom of the pie crust.

Beat the leftover yolk with the half teaspoon of water and brush all over the top of the pie. Sprinkle on the caraway seeds and dust the top with paprika. Bake until the pie is set and the top begins to brown, about 20 minutes.

Let cool slightly and serve warm.

Happy Pie Day!

Monday, January 17, 2011

Bienvenue Bluie!

Welcome to the family, petite chou!
This holiday season, through a combination of comparison shopping, lurking in cooking stores, and fortuitous receipt of gift cards, I made a longtime dream come true. I bought a 4.5 quart cobalt blue French oven from Le Creuset.

There was my new baby, all round and smooth and perfectly blue! What would I do to welcome her to the family?

I knew: I’d make cassoulet from Mastering the Art of French Cooking. No, I had never made it before. But it’s one of my favorite kinds of food: making it once is like making four other different things! Twice!! And I would get to put Bluie through her paces.

First there was shopping. I did not want to use lamb, as Mastering suggests. (My better half does not want to eat anything cute and fluffy.) Goose, duck, and partridge were uncomfortably expensive—especially right after the excesses of Sparklemas. I decided to use pork.

Polish sausage and ham hock
from Tollefson. Pork rind from
Finer Meats.
Even on a regular day, this dish calls for four different kinds of pork: roast, side or salt pork, sausage, and pork rind. I thought a nice, flavorful ham hock would be the perfect economical stand-in for rich duck or goose confit. I went to the Minneapolis Farmers Market to see Dan Tollefson, my favorite pork farmer in the world. He set me up with everything but rind. After calling all over the city, I found it at Finer Meat Company just a few blocks from my house. Who knew that this store was there? And why didn’t they tell me?! Finer Meat has a beautiful array of fresh, smoked, and salted meats. They have a shelf of meat-related groceries. (They have butcher hats on, for crying out loud!) They sold me a half-pound of lovely pork rind for a buck.

I’m not going to recite the recipe, since it is tiresome in its length and also it’s not mine. My Google fu turned up this, which will get you there. Instead of goose, I used a pork roast per Mastering’s original instruction. Instead of lamb, I used a ham hock per my imagination.

First, make a roast. Brown a pork loin and then some onions and carrots. Throw in a bouquet garni, then cover and pop in a 325 degree oven for an hour and a half.

(Just so you know, I used some bean cooking water to wash this tasty brown stuff back into the pot.)

Pork rind: weirdly elegant?
While all that jazz is going down in the oven, time to start the beans. Child specifies the quick-soak method. While the beans soak in their hot bath, freshen the pork rind in two changes of boiling water. Then cut it into quarter-inch dice and simmer it for a half hour. You’re essentially making gelatin here: the softened pork rind will melt to nothing but collagen. It will add velvety body to the finished dish.

All the stuff in the picture to the right, here, has got to get crammed into the same pot to simmer for an hour and a half. Julia wasn’t kidding about an 8-quart pot. I didn’t listen. I’m using the gray pot because Bluie was in the oven during this part.

C'est magnifique! Also I don't
speak French.
While the beans are cooking, or maybe the next day, you can make another meat dish. Mastering has many suggestions, including lamb braised with browned bones that add flavor. I had some meaty pork bones left over from Sparklemas dinner. I browned those in Bluie, then browned two chopped onions and two diced carrots. The bones went back in the pot along with a ham hock, a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc, a can of tomato paste, two bay leaves, four cloves of mashed garlic, and a half teaspoon of thyme. I braised that in the oven for an hour and a half.

Finally, everything is cooked and it smells like a French chophouse in here. Time to assemble...

...and top with crumbs and butter.

After baking it looks... um, it looks rather brown.

But it tastes like the heavenly congress of pork and beans. Which it is!

And though I scrubbed her with an enamel-safe pad and plenty of soap, Bluie has a few brown battle scars on the bottom of her. Ah, c’est la vie, little one. You work hard in this family of pots and pans. You get a mark here, a ding there. But you are no less beloved for it; no less beautiful to me.